A Country of Complexities but also Hope
Last week, I visited Assosa, Benishangul-Gumuz region in Ethiopia to see work that UNICEF is supporting with funding from the UK Government. This region, like many others, is hosting conflict-affected internally displaced persons (IDPs). While this has a strain on already depleted resources, what struck me the most was the generosity of the Regional Government and host communities who have opened their arms to help.
I visited a UNICEF-supported school for both the host community and IDP children. And while the school is overcrowded, and lacks textbooks and other educational materials, the children are full of hope and give us inspiration. They told me how much they enjoyed the school.
Take Hamza, 11 years old, who wants to be a doctor. Big dreams for children who do not have the same opportunities that children have back in the UK, but they still have aspirations. Each child I spoke to wanted to do something to help their communities’ and they can do this because of the contributions that donor countries such as the UK and individuals make to UNICEF. It’s something to be proud of.
Apart from providing educational materials and strengthening the capacity of teachers, the UK Government is also building three classrooms to provide more space for the students so they can learn, do well in life and make a difference.
I also visited a settlement and met with IDPs. The conversation was difficult and emotional. These vulnerable women, men, and children were displaced due to the conflict in Oromia and have been in Assosa for around two years. They are not optimistic that they will be able to return home anytime soon and not even sure what they will go back to as they have lost everything. But one recurrent theme, during the conversation, was how grateful they are for the kindness of the Government and the host community who are sharing what they have including food and clothing.
In addition, UNICEF, again through funding from the UK, has built a water supply system which provides water 24 hours a day. We have also constructed showers, latrines, and water points. This gives people dignity and means children are able to stay healthy and less prone to killer preventable water-borne diseases like cholera.
My final stop was at a UNICEF-supported one-stop-centre for survivors of gender-based violence. I met the amazing staff who are providing medical, legal, and psycho-social services to women and children who have suffered unimaginable and unacceptable abuse. This centre is a lifeline for women and children as they are getting the help they need to overcome the trauma they have endured. But more is needed as many women cannot afford to travel to the one-stop and there is not enough space to accommodate the women who so desperately need their assistance.
I know that people sometimes question where their aid money goes, but I see first-hand how much of an impact your contribution has and how hard our partners, like UNICEF and the Government, work to help vulnerable children and families who do not have day-to-day access to basic amenities like education, shelter, food, clothing, and water. I, for one, am taking back what children and displaced families told me, what they need, and I will advocate for them. I will speak for them and will for a long time remember their stories with their voices echoing behind me.